Hurricane Irene, which on Friday morning was bearing down on the Carolinas, may pose a threat to life and property. But for surfers in Florida, the storm is perceived as a Godsend as it has delivered a rare epic swell.
"These are the kinds of storms that separate the men from the boys," exclaimed Jayme Noe, owner of Cocoa Beach Surf & Skate, who provided the web-cam images for this story. "We pray for this kind of thing. This is what we live for."
It has been a full week of excitement for wave riders in the Sunshine State. On Sunday, the forecast called for Irene ultimately to make landfall on Florida's eastern shore. But it quickly became apparent that the storm would pass farther offshore instead, allowing for a fairly clean swell.
On Friday morning Irene, as a Category 2 storm boasting 105-mph winds, was tracking in a northerly direction, toward the Carolinas, about 200 miles offshore.
That's an ideal distance for Florida surfers, a perfect storm, coming after months of predominantly flat conditions.
"It's going to be absolutely epic Friday and Saturday," Noe predicted.
Waves began to arrive Thursday, luring surfers to the South Beach, Palm Beach, Satellite Beach, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral areas. But in most areas, because they were still in Irene's forward path, they were accompanied by 25-mph winds that blew the waves apart and created hazardous conditions.
"It's all closed out, and there are large rip tides," complained Nola Yates, an employee at Balsa Bill Surf Shop in Satellite Beach. "A lot of people are looking, but few are going out."
That wasn't true in the south, where swirling winds from Irene, as the storm began passing to the north, created side-shore, almost offshore winds favorable for surfing because they hold up the peaks and give the waves better shape.
A Florida News Journal report stated: "We saw about 30 surfers at Paradise Beach in Melbourne, and found some had come from as far away as New Jersey and Texas. Brevard County Lifeguards reported they had not made any rescues and called it lucky. "
On Friday morning conditions were vastly improved up and down the coast, though "still a little unruly" in places, said Mike Watson, a Florida-based forecaster for Surfline. The swell should become cleaner as Irene moves farther to the north, taking its ferocious winds. Waves in excess of 10 feet -- with much taller faces -- were already breaking at some beaches.
For Floridians used to tiny beach-break waves, a pumping swell like this one gets the adrenaline pumping much in the way a big winter swell does for surfers on north-facing beaches in Hawaii. Although waves in Florida are not as large as those that break over shallow Hawaiian reefs, they're perhaps more challenging because, unlike Hawaii, there are no reef or point breaks, and no calm paddling channels.
To ride large surf in Florida, one must paddle through the impact zone to reach the lineup.
Of course all this excitement is great for business. Philip Van Vonderen, a salesman at MTB Surf Emporium in Indialantic, told Florida Today: "We'll sell more leashes, [board] pads, wax, ding-repair kits, fins and even surfboards."
The swell should continue into Sunday morning, then diminish quickly. But already surfers are eyeing a tropical depression far to the southeast, off Africa, wondering whether it, too, will deliver rideable surf.
-- Credit for NASA hurricane image: NASA/NOAA GOES Project